Lessons from One of My Favorite Artists- Shirley Trevena

Hello friends! Wouldn’t you like a magic formula that would make every painting successful? Who wouldn’t be interested in a recipe for creating better art? I am constantly an advocate for letting other artists inspire you. Sometimes this means studying with an artist you admire, other times it may mean something as simple as painting with a friend. As far as I’m concerned, anything that sparks your creativity is something to be cultivated in life. Lately I’ve been indulging in some study of one of my favorite watercolorists. Her name is Shirley Trevena. If you don’t know her, you should.  She is an amazing floral and still life artist… But that oversimplifies who and what she does.

Shirley Trevena

Shirley Trevena’s paintings are full of color, and surprise. Even though her subject matter may be traditional flowers and ordinary objects, her paintings are anything but ordinary! I’ve been taking notes on what I feel she tends to do in order to create her successful paintings.  All the artwork in this post is by Shirley Trevena.

Here’s a few ideas from my notes to self after studying Shirley Trevena’s work:

  1. Go for big tonal shifts incorporating the full spectrum of value from black to white.
  2. Break the generally accepted watercolor rules and use black paint!
  3. Avoid painting each object entirely, have some of the object lost and merged with adjacent shapes via soft edges and ignoring perspective
  4.  Color Sand with watercolor pencil for texture
  5. Visit a floral shop or grocery store for color and subject inspiration.
  6. Thumbnail sketch a painting and then go in without an underdrawing. Add graphite later.
  7.  Grab collage color swatches and group them together to form collections of colors that will inspire a future painting.
  8. Bind a composition of separate objects with one or many lost and found vertical shapes. Or try using an “L” shape. Let the straight lines of the shapes move behind and in front of the objects, varying as they move through the piece. Let the shape(s) create divisions of space that are interesting.  Form the shapes using tape as masks.
  9.  Do thumbnails with collage as means of inspiring divisions of space and envisioning pattern ideas.
  10. Wrap flowers in wrapping paper for interesting patterns.
  11. Apply paint with something other than a brush: a scraper tool, a stick, or a bamboo pen.
  12. Draw into wet paint with a stick or a  black Woody Stabilo crayon- order here.
  13. Create a permanent record of your colors by creating a chart that shows the color straight from the tube and diluted.  Use it for matching colors found in collage pieces.

Shirley Trevena

Taking notes is something I like to do when I study another artist’s work.  I will often bring a watercolor  journal with me to museum visits and take note of what I see. (order the my favorite watercolor journal here:  Aquabee Super Deluxe journal

In my journal I’ll note patterns.  I’ll write down materials.  I’ll sketch and note history that might be relevant. I’ll even jot down ideas that may come for my own work as I walk around. It’s amazing what I learn in the process of simply absorbing other artist’s efforts.

Shirley Trevena- One of my Favorites


My next couple of blogs will touch on my most recent art field trip… a visit to Philadelphia and NYC. The American Watercolors exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum let me to luxuriously linger with John Singer Sargent’s watercolors in an exhibit titled: American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent.  In NYC, I took notes on the Klimt paintings housed at the Neue Gallery, especially Adele Bloch Bauer, the Woman In Gold.  I can’t wait to tell you all about it !!!

Do you have any tips to share after studying the work of someone you admire?  Email me or respond here and let’s continue the discussion….

Here’s to lingering with art you love,


Cinque Terre- Portovenere

PS- If you’re hungry for adventures that include art, think about joining me this fall for my EAT PAINT COOK TOUR of TUSCANY and the CINQUE TERRE 9/23-10/3/17!  It’s going to be another great tour of my favorite places in this special corner of Italy. Here’s a link to more information, videos, and registration: https://www.ilchiostro.com/workshops/eat-paint-cook-tour-of-tuscany-cinque-terre/

Ireland is also calling…

PSS- If you can’t make it this year, how about next year in IRELAND?!  May 13-24, 2018 I’ll be leading a tour of Ireland South…my favorite places in the south of the Emerald Isle, including Dublin, Cork, Killarney, Galway, Adare, the Dingle Peninsula, and more!  Here’s more information on this fun get away…https://rebeccazartist.com/tour-ireland-south-wrebecca-513-24-2018/


Author Rebecca Zdybel

Artist, Instructor, Art-Travel Instructor - Spread Light, Share Love, DO Art! Rebecca Z Artist (Rebecca Zdybel) is an artist and instructor in Myrtle Beach, SC. She blogs and teaches locally and internationally. Sign up for her blog, classes, workshops, art travel tours, or see her work at RebeccaZArtist.com.

More posts by Rebecca Zdybel

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • patricia v merrell says:

    Thank you for this! I do not know her work but I like it a lot – lively and fresh. I don’t understand note # 10 about wrapping flowers in wrapping paper… is that with paint on them and then pressing it to the painting OR what?

    Sargent – I saw the Philadelphia exhibit and while it was a great history of the developement of watercolor as a desirable art form it was a bit short on actual Sargent paintings… a few at the end of the show. The Dulwich Picture Gallery, a 20 minute tube ride from central London, is featureing an exhibit of Sargent The Watercolors with 30 of them being loaned for the exhibit this fall. I know how much you love his work – you might want to take one of the new cheap flights and take a small group to London. It is on June 21 to October 8. We leave for the Uk Monday for a month but are returning on the 16th just befor it opens. Will go back in September to see it. Dulwich was the first purpose built museum in the UK and is small but very interesting.

    Keep on keeping on. Fantastic information in this blog post!

    • Hi Pat, so nice to hear from you! Your question about #10 is a good one. Shirley takes wrapping paper and puts it around the container for the flowers. She’ll also put it in the background behind her still life set up to inspire patterns moving through the painting. I hope that explains it a little more clearly.

      I agree with you about the exhibit in Philadelphia featuring Sargent and Homer. I would personally have loved to see more Sargent paintings included. However, I did learn a lot by spending some time and getting exposure to Artists’ I had not been familiar with before.

      Thanks for the lead on the exhibit in London. I probably won’t be able to get there myself, but maybe somebody who reads this will want to make a visit. ❤️

  • Lila says:

    Love Shirley ‘s work!
    Thanks for analyzing and listing how she creates such fabulous paintings!
    Ordered her most recent book this week!
    Have a great trip to Ireland!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the analysis…sometimes I wonder if it has any meaning for anyone besides me, so it’s always good to hear from readers. What’s the title of the book you ordered?

  • Pam Wetzel says:

    Hey Rebecca, we’re study Shirley Trevena here in Dunwoody at my Wednesday watercolor class, our instructor is guiding us along. I googled Shirley and your blog came up. Just wanted to share the connection with you. Great list of takeaways of her style!!

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